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Viewing Topic "Frogmen against a Fleet - The Italian X-MAS Unit and Alexandria 1941"
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Posted by: KenA
Posted on: 16/07/2015 03:39:25

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Posted by: KenA
Total Posts: 113
Joined Date: Tuesday, 15 October 2013

I recently came across an interesting 19 page article on-line from the US Naval War College Review, Summer 2015 edition.  The article was written by those well-known naval historians Vincent P O’Hara and Enrico Cernuschi and is entitled: “Frogmen against a Fleet: The Italian Attack on Alexandria 18/19 December 1941”.

You will recall that this was the raid when Italian frogmen on manned torpedoes (SLCs or “pigs” as the Italians called them) managed to penetrate Britain’s main naval base in the eastern Mediterranean (Alexandria) and disabled two British battleships (Queen Elizabeth and Valiant), a tanker and a destroyer.  In fact, if the harbour had been deeper the Queen Elizabeth would have sunk completely.  As it was she ended up sitting sedately on her bottom in the shallow harbour with the upper works still showing.

All told it was a brilliantly successful raid by the Italians even if it did not all go to plan and the raiders did not escape.  The Valiant ended up in dry floating dock until April 1942 from where it moved to Durban, South Africa, to continue repairs and refit.  The Queen Elizabeth emerged from dock in June 1942 and sailed to Norfolk, Virginia, for permanent repairs.  Its first fleet operations after that did not occur until January 1944!

Admiral Andrew Cunningham (Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet) stated in his letter dated 28 December 1941 to Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound (First Sea Lord) “the damage to the battleships at this time is a disaster”.

How this raid has been overlooked by Osprey for so long as a Raid book I don’t know because it is a classic raid - it was innovative and so successful that it was imitated by others (e.g. the British chariot) and developed further into other forms of raid to this day using unconventional means.

The link to the pdf article, which has photos, maps (including one of the attack in the harbour), notes (a select bibliography) and some discussion about the X-MAS units is:

https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/f9f595b1-7547-4929-8d05-b2e798390a3c/Frogmen-against-a-Fleet--The-Italian-Attack-on-Ale.aspx

The article gives a brief account of the damage incurred by the Queen Elizabeth and the Valiant.  Additional information on ship damage (as well as damage to other British ships during 1941-42) can be obtained from the book “Between Hostile Shores: Mediterranean Convoy Battles 1941-1942”, Part III - Review of Damage to His Majesty’s Ships (3 September 1941 to 2 September 1942).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Between-Hostile-Shores-Mediterranean-1941-1942/dp/184102354X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437011760&sr=1-1&keywords=Between+Hostile+Shores

Enjoy.

Posted on: 16/07/2015 03:39:26
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 347
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

While I'd have no objection to a "Raid" on this subject I would point out that the recent Osprey books on Italian Naval Elites and Axis midget submarines both give pretty good coverage of this subject.


 So before this is gone over again I would much rather see a book about the equally novel and daring British attack on "Tirpitz" by the X-craft in Operation "Source". A Raid book would do very nicely, or perhaps a Campaign title called something like "Hunting the Tirpitz" to also cover the Fleet Air Arm and 617 Squadron attacks as well?   

Posted on: 16/07/2015 06:19:04
Posted by: KenA
Total Posts: 113
Joined Date: Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Painty, I just knew you’d pull out the sauce (whoops, “Source”) on me when I started my post.  Glad you didn’t disappoint.  I’ll come back to that in a minute.

I would though just point out that Osprey’s books “
Italian Navy & Air Force Elite Units & Special Forces 1940-45” (ELI 191) and “Axis Midget Submarines 1939-45” (NVG 212) are titles covering a wide range of aspects and operations.  As they cover a lot of territory they cannot do justice to the Alexandria raid.  That raid deserves more attention and analysis.

I would add that not everyone interested in the Alexandria raid will necessarily purchase ELI 191 and NVG 212 and it is unreasonable to expect them to.  You wouldn’t be too impressed if I suggested that Operation Source is already adequately covered by Osprey?  I mean, Osprey has already put out titles “The Royal Navy 1939-45” (ELI 79) and “The British Fleet Air Arm in World War II” (ELI 165) and is shortly to release “Avro Lancaster” (AVG 21).  No, these are no substitutes for a complete Raid title with full analysis.

I suggest, by the way, that you stick with you original suggestion of a Raid title for Operation Source rather than dilute it with a Campaign title trying to cover everything (people have written books of several hundred pages doing that).

I should perhaps note that the raid on Alexandria influenced some of the British thinking that went into Operation Source.  Still, think a Source book should be done before an Alexandria book, Painty?

If you can get your hands on a copy you will probably find the following book of interest: “Underwater Raid on Tirpitz” (i.e. Operation Source) by Peter Howard (paperback) (Secret Operations Series, Ian Allen Publishing) (2006).  The book is 96 pages and has heaps of photos, some diagrams and maps.  The problem is that it is out of print but you may be able to pick up a used copy somewhere.

Posted on: 16/07/2015 10:56:09
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 347
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013

Oh I take all your points, KenA, and I've absolutely no objections to a book on the alexandria attack. I would just personally be even more interested in coverage of the X-craft and thin kthey represent a rather bigger gap in ospreys coverage of WW2 naval history.


 And while I'm thinking of books to suggest, how about an "Elite" on British beach teams to match the recent book on American Naval special troops?   

Posted on: 16/07/2015 13:59:21
Posted by: achim
Total Posts: 40
Joined Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Personally, I'd buy a Raid on the Italian Alexandria Operation, and, of course, also on the British X-Craft attack on "Tirtitz"!
but, there is much more ground to cover!

The Japanese Modget Sub attacks on Pearl Harbour, on Sydney Harbour and on Diego Suarez would also merit a Raid coverage..., even if not all go to Plan!

The Italian SLC Operations against Gibraltar were going on a during long time and in a very ingenious Way! Quite embarrasing to the RN whenfinally discovered!


Then again, the British operations against Genoa and Singapore are as interesting as those doomed German launchesagainst the Invasion Fleet and lateron in the Scheldt Estuary! In my Opinion, it does not matter if a Raid has success or failed..., it is surely worth studying such daring Operations, and all of them would make really "a good read"!       

Posted on: 20/07/2015 19:48:35
Posted by: KenA
Total Posts: 113
Joined Date: Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Point well taken Achim.  A raid doesn’t have to be a success to be of interest and to be worthy of an Osprey Raid title.  To be fair Osprey has recognised this (e.g. the Raid title “The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang”, which wasn’t exactly one of the most successful raids in history).

You also make a good point regarding the Italian SLC operations against Gibraltar and those other suggestions you made look interesting.

I’m interested in the Italian underwater operations, not only because of their ingenuity and innovations, but because they have received so little recognition from historians (well, English speaking ones).  The Italian forces in general seem to have been the most, or one of the most, underrated and unrecognised in WWII and yet they came up with some quite remarkable stuff.

The Alexandria raid was a real success story for the Italians.  It had huge implications for the British coming at a crucial time in the North African campaign and shortly after Pearl Harbor.  I would hope that these considerations would add weight in the final analysis to Osprey agreeing to commission a Raid title.  Whether it could also cover Gibraltar may be another matter or maybe they’d have to extend it to a Campaign title as they’re doing with Taranto.

Posted on: 21/07/2015 10:48:43
Posted by: achim
Total Posts: 40
Joined Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2013

yes, it is unfortunate that the Italian Armed Forces, be that the Army, the Airforce, or the Navy have got little coverage in English!
additionally, most of tis coverage is "negative"! I think, this has to do with the British Propaganda Machinery in WWII...., "oh, yes, the Germans have put us to flight in France, Norway and in Greece, but we have done away with the Italians quite nicely..."!!

However, truth to be said, in the last few years, there are emerging more and more Books that are not that biased! Some new Titles give better Credit to Italy's armed Forces in WWII! however, ....there is really very little on their SLC and Midget Sub Operations! It would be quite worthwhile for Osprey to exploit this ralative lack of coverage (well, ok, at least I think this would be worthwhile...)!   

Posted on: 21/07/2015 23:47:31

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